Google Maps Provides Virtual Outing to Mandela’s Island Prison

Visits to Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison and is now a museum, need to be booked at least two days in advance and last 3 1/2 hours. Google Inc. is now offering a more accessible option.

Street View, a Google Maps feature that provides panoramic shots of landscape and buildings, on Wednesday extended its coverage to the island, enabling viewers to hone in on its rocky terrain and buildings via a computer or smartphone. It also unveiled an audio-visual tour of the site, which includes imagery of Mandela’s tiny cell and the limestone quarry where he toiled during his imprisonment for opposition to white minority rule.

“Thanks to Google’s partnership with the Robben Island Museum, more people than ever before have access to this World Heritage Site,” South Africa’s Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said in an e-mailed statement. “We hope that this initiative not only allows for the world to reflect on South Africa’s struggle for freedom, but also showcases its beauty.”

Mandela spent a fortnight on the island in 1962, a year after the apartheid regime declared it a maximum security prison, when he was arrested for leaving the country illegally. He returned in 1964 at the age of 46 to serve a life sentence after being convicted of sabotage. He became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and died in 2013 at the age of 95.

The last of the political prisoners were freed from Robben Island in 1991 and it was declared a museum six years later. The structure of the prison, situated about 7 kilometers (4 miles) offshore of Cape Town, has been left unchanged, giving visitors a sense of the harsh conditions.

“Robben Island is a symbol of South Africa’s fight for freedom,” Luke McKend, country director for Google South Africa, said in the statement. “We’re excited about helping people to learn more about this heritage and to explore the island from any device, anywhere in the world.”

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